The state yesterday rescinded an order that prevented utilities and energy firms from entering homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, a step that virtually halted a much-touted program to cut energy bills by making houses more energy efficient.
In a unanimous vote without any debate, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved an order lifting the prohibition to limit contact between customers and companies as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
After the agency sought to limit access to homes, the state’s utilities essentially told contractors to end energy-efficiency work to comply with the directive, virtually shutting down programs to curtail energy use.
Mitigating job losses
Erin Cosgrove, policy counsel to the Energy Efficiency Alliance of New Jersey, said rescinding the order is a real relief and can potentially help to mitigate the staggering job losses the energy-efficiency industry has experienced.
“New Jersey has taken a step to allow our industry to stop wondering when and start focusing on how,’’ Cosgrove said. However, the order was slightly vague, saying the sector needs to know what projects can be done and what the protocols should be to ensure adequate health and safety measures are in place, she said.
The board order makes no mention of what protocols should be followed once the ban on access to homes is lifted.
Lime Energy welcomed the order, saying it spent the downtime when work was halted developing “rigorous safety protocols’’ on how energy-efficiency projects should proceed, according to Lloyd Kass, a senior vice president at the Newark company. Lime Energy furloughed two-thirds of its employees during the pandemic.
“We are ready to go. We know how we can do it safely,’’ Kass said.
Back on the job
As a result of the shutdown, the clean-energy industry across the nation suffered deep job losses. In New Jersey, an analysis released last week found the state lost more than 11,000 jobs in the sector since the pandemic began, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs, and others.
“Something is wrong when people are allowed to work on pipelines, but they are not allowed to save customers money by reducing their energy bills,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need to get the clean-energy sector moving again.’’
The Murphy administration has touted energy efficiency as a key component of its plans to shift New Jersey to 100% clean energy by 2050, but it is lagging behind mandates to require utilities to achieve significant cuts in energy use.
A two-year-old law mandates electric utilities cut use by 2% annually and gas utilities cut customer use by 0.75%. The state BPU was expected to adopt a program this month to begin to achieve those goals but has yet to do so.